31 May 2020 – Sunday – #77

When the house is on fire, sometimes you forget your Covid-19 mask.

Atlanta’s Mayor asks protestes to get Covid-19 tests

I wrote yesterday about how Covid-19 exacerbates America’s institutional racism. I don’t want to sound too alarmist or conspiratorial, but it also may have created the pretext for Trump to use the military to take control the US. Why lose an election when you don’t have to have one in the first place, right?

It seems like a president would ask the FBI or other law enforcement agencies monitor civil unrest, not the military. But the military and National Guard are planning to deploy military forces to quell civil outbreaks.

In addition to Minnesota, where a Minneapolis police officer killed George Floyd, the military is tracking uprisings in New York, Ohio, Colorado, Arizona, Tennessee, and Kentucky, according to a Defense Department situation report. Notably, only Minnesota has requested National Guard support.

The Nation, “Exclusive: The US Military Is Monitoring Protests in 7 States,” 30 May 2020

While America burns, I’m turning my attention to Covid-19 science today. Let’s start with a quick European tour.

First Spain. Doctors in Madrid have measured a Covid-19 seroprevalence of 20% using an antibody test, a seroprevelance higher than the 10%-14% the government measured earlier in Madrid. The new study had 17% positive for IgG and 3% positive for IgM. IgM shows up 4-6 days after infection and disappears, while IgG shows up later and persists. People who presented with IgM were followed up with a PCR test to determine whether they still had an active infection.

The earlier Spanish study tested 60,000 people all around Spain and had a result of 5% positive over the entire country. From that, I calculated herd immunity would be achieved after 0.7% of the population died. The Madrid part of the Spanish test appears to be 1/2 to 3/4 of the new Madrid test. If the entire Spanish study was off by the same, then herd immunity would be achieved after 0.35%-0.5% of the population died. For comparison, the Spanish Flu killed about 0.5% of the US population.

If you believe the original Spanish test, Covid-19 is a little more virulent than the Spanish Flu. If you think the Spanish test was off in Spain by the same ratio it appears to have been off in Madrid, then Covid-19 is a little lest virulent than the Spanish Flu.

Second England. Prime Minister Johnson announced UK would start easing Covid-19 restrictions on Monday. Johnson wants to get the economy moving again. He’s touting a new best-of-breed Test-and-Trace system to control further outbreaks.

[Chief scientific adviser, Sir Patrick] Vallance pointed out there are still around 54,000 new cases a week, which he called “a significant burden of infection”. He also stressed the importance of the new test-and-trace system working effectively, to keep the pandemic under control.

The Guardian, “Groups of up to six people allowed to meet in England from Monday,” 28 May 2020.

Scientists are worried UK easing on Monday is too soon. They also are worried the new Test-and-Trace system isn’t ready.

“I think at the moment, with relatively high incidence and relaxing the measures and also with an untested track and trace system, I think we are taking some risk here.”

John Edmunds, Professor of Infectious Disease Modelling, London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, 29 May 2020.

It turns out, the scientists have a good reason to be skeptical of the new Test-and-Trace system. Here’s a report from one of the trainees for the new system.

Over the next few days I learned more about my job from watching the news than I did from those who were supposed to supervise me. I still did not feel qualified to do it. Then it was announced by Hancock that we were going live the next day. On my chat there was a message from a supervisor asking the more experienced members of our chat to help those who needed help. The blind leading the blind!

The Guardian, “Why I quit working on Boris Johnson’s ‘world-beating’ test-and-tracing system,” 30 May 2020.

Good luck, England! I’m sure it will all go swimmingly!

Third France. French scientists are looking for France’s so-called patient zero. Scientists like to find where an epidemic starts to understand how it progressed and possibly thwart a second wave. The first case appears to be much, much earlier than expected.

A team of researchers in the city of Colmar in northeastern France announced in a release last week that it had identified two X-rays, from Nov. 16 and Nov. 18, showing symptoms consistent with the novel coronavirus.

NBC News, “New evidence in race to find France’s COVID-19 ‘patient zero’,” 15 May 2020.

You might remember I mentioned that Seth Abramson speculated Trump went to Walter Reed hospital in November because he thought he had Covid-19. And again, I don’t want to sound alarmist or conspiratorial, but US intelligence knew in November there was a Covid-19 problem and this French case confirms it was spreading outside China that early. And again, I don’t want to sound alarmist or conspiratorial, but did Trump know about it and decide he’d be better off politically with a Covid-19 outbreak?

I realize I’m stepping into misinformation territory there. Did I tell you my next book, Trans Librarian Save Planet (which is about a trans librarian who saves the planet) is about misinformation?

I’m going to put my hands on the car and step away from Europe to look at more general science stories.

If you want to dig into Covid-19 transmission, here are two studies, one from last month which is mostly about surface spread, the other from last week which is mostly about air transmission.

Masks reduce airborne transmission of Covid-19 by blocking source of transmission.

At this point, no one should be surprised that the main benefit of masks is to block the source of the transmission, not protect the wearer.

Here’s the latest from Derek Lowe on Covid-19 vaccines. Some quick observations. I’m seeing reports about adverse reactions to the CanSino’s Ad5-nCoV and the Moderna vaccines. Getting a viable candidate that people tolerate is not a cakewalk. Second is that it seems like most of the vaccines are targeting the Spike glycoprotein, so hopefully that approach works. This paper Derek points to makes it seem like a good candidate. Last, as you might expect, most of the large pharma companies are acquiring vaccine candidates from smaller firms. That’s typical for the industry. I was interested that Pfizer has acquired four Covid-19 vaccine candidates. I wonder what that says about the economics of vaccines.

Gail pointed out Post-Viral Fatigue and Post-Viral Fatigue Syndrome. It’s so early in the Covid-19 pandemic that it’s hard to sort out whether fatigue symptoms are long term, but the early Covid-19 related fatigue symptoms appear similar to Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and other viral responses.

I’ve been wondering when wearables would provide Covid-19 value. The first payoffs look close. Stanford researchers have used Fitbit heart data to predict Covid-19 infections in 11 of 14 patients studied. Small sample, but useful if you can predict 75% of the time when someone is getting sick. Another study uses Oura ring data to predict Covid-19 infection.

[R]esearchers at WVU’s Rockefeller Neuroscience Institute reported that Oura ring data, combined with an app to measure cognition and other symptoms, can predict up to three days in advance when people will register a fever, coughing or shortness of breath. It can even predict someone’s exact temperature, like a weather forecast for the body.

The Seattle Times, “Wearable tech can spot coronavirus symptoms before you even realize you’re sick. Here’s how,” 28 May 2020.

A wearable Covid-19 detector would be a game changer for Test, Track, and Quarantine.

Last but not least, Kim shared an article about how scientists are coming to see Covid-19 as a vascular disease rather than a respiratory disease. The SARS-CoV-2 virus behind Covid-19 spreads differently from SARS, which causes a respiratory disease, because of the proteins used to spread.

Benhur Lee, MD, a professor of microbiology at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, says the difference between SARS and SARS-CoV-2 likely stems from an extra protein each of the viruses requires to activate and spread. Although both viruses dock onto cells through ACE2 receptors, another protein is needed to crack open the virus so its genetic material can get into the infected cell. The additional protein the original SARS virus requires is only present in lung tissue, but the protein for SARS-CoV-2 to activate is present in all cells, especially endothelial cells.

elemental+, “Coronavirus May Be a Blood Vessel Disease, Which Explains Everything,” 29 May 2020.

If Covid-19 is a vascular disease, it has significant treatment implications. Low-cost, highly available drugs like statins and ACE inhibitors become candidates to manage Covid-19 patients.

Thanks for reading. Stay safe. It feels extra crazy out there with civil unrest layered on top of a pandemic. Check in with your minority friends and, if you don’t have any, it’s an important time to make some!

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